Give Me Back My Five Bucks

4 lies we tell ourselves to continue spending

The last handbag I bought was in 2009, and it cost me $275. It was an expensive purchase for sure, but 7 years later, it continues to be my everyday purse. It still looks great, and I will keep using it as long as I can. However, a few days ago I decided that I wanted a new purse. The one I have is pretty big and not super practical anymore now that I don’t carry as much stuff around with me like I used to. Plus it’s pretty casual and not very professional to carry into meetings.

So I went online and started looking at purses. There were a couple that I liked, and after about an hour of reading reviews and looking at pictures, I finally decided on one that was $268. But if I was going to spend that much on a purse, I would qualify for free shipping. So obviously I should look at the sale items, right? Twenty minutes later, I had a cart full of stuff and my credit card in my hand. I could afford this purchase – and I deserved it! Plus, it’s not often this store has a sale, I should buy while I can. Wait. What? I snapped out of it right then, put my card away, and very quickly closed my laptop.

Related: Consider the cost-per-use of each purchase

Not only was this purse going to be an impulse purchase, but I also found myself justifying a bigger spend just because there was a sale on. Even though I knew that a sale was not reason to buy things that I didn’t actually need.

No matter how good you think you are at managing your finances, we are all guilty of lying to ourselves from time to time in order to justify indulgent spending. Luckily I caught myself before I spent nearly $500 on stuff I didn’t need! Because while splurging on occasion is healthy, one of the keys to financial independence is to stop making poor spending decisions and unnecessary purchases. I didn’t need a new handbag, and I certainly didn’t need the sale items I had gleefully added to my shopping cart.

Here are four common lies we often tell ourselves in order to justify unnecessary spending:

I work hard, so I deserve it

When I lived in Europe, I traveled a lot. And when traveling, I was often times surrounded by tourists. I’ve overheard countless conversations about money, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, traveling to escape obligations, and travel debt.

There’s one conversation that has always stuck with me: Nic and I were in Prague waiting in line to take a tram ride up to a viewpoint. We were standing behind two 20-something women who were discussing how they couldn’t really afford the six-week European vacation they were on, but they were happy they did it because they “deserved it after a hard semester.” They each financed their trip with a credit card, and fretted for a few moments about how they planned on paying it back. “We’re young, we need to enjoy ourselves,” one of the women exclaimed. “We only live once!” the other woman agreed.

Luxuries like vacations are definitely something we should indulge in from time to time – but only if we can afford them. If you can’t pay for your trip in cash, you cannot afford to go. I can’t stress that enough. It is so much better to wait and save up for a big trip, or scale back and take a less expensive vacation. The last thing you want to do is stress about your money when you’re supposed to be having fun, coming back home to a huge credit card bill, or having to work hard into your retirement years in order to pay off all of the things you thought you “deserved” along the way.

The savings isn’t worth it

Most of my friends don’t do much comparison shopping. They don’t clip coupons, they don’t ask for better rates, and they don’t bring back receipts for price adjustments because “the savings isn’t worth the hassle.”

I don’t know if I should be repeating this story on my blog, but I remember when RD and I were first dating, he confessed that he sometimes didn’t submit his receipts for contact lenses to his health care provider. It wasn’t very much money, and he just felt like it wasn’t worth his time. So he kept putting it off until he eventually forgot about it. I was shocked. Not just because he wasn’t using his extended health care benefits, but because I claim every little expense I can. My blog is called Give Me Back My Five Bucks, after all. :)

A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend who had about $4,000 in a “savings” account with a big bank that offered 0.05% interest. That’s right. 0.05% interest. On top of the low interest rate (if you can even call it an interest rate!), she was also paying a monthly fee for her chequing account. I asked why she didn’t move her money to a bank with free chequing accounts and a higher interest rate (at that time, PC Financial was offering 4%). She replied by saying, “its not worth the hassle, and I don’t need the extra money.” Even though she was in debt and paying her bank to keep her money for her, she wasn’t willing to trade a few hours of her time in exchange for saving $12/month in account fees, and a higher interest rate on her savings.

Maybe $12/month didn’t seem like a lot to my friend, but it’s a lot to me. Especially when you consider evaluating all of your expenses to make sure you’re getting the best prices on the items and services you pay for. It all adds up, and you could potentially save hundreds of dollars each year.

It’s an investment

Sure, you might need new clothing and shoes when you land your first job out of school; looking professional truly is an investment in your career. However, buying a $500 pair of shoes is not an investment. If you want to buy a pair of $500 shoes, and can afford to do so, then go ahead. But buying them with the idea that you are somehow going to financially benefit from them is a lie. A true investment is something that will make you money over time, not plummet in value the moment you leave the store.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

If I indulged in every “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity that has come my way, I would be in some serious, serious debt. :) I get it – when something fun and unique comes along, it’s hard to say no – but very few things are truly only once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

In my early twenties, a friend asked me to go backpacking in Asia for the summer. “We’ll never get to do something like this again,” she had said. I remember thinking to myself, why can’t we do this trip later when we are both out of debt? Asia will still be there, and we’d be able to enjoy ourselves more if we didn’t have to put our trip on credit. So even though I wanted to go, I knew I couldn’t. Plus, if I could have somehow come up with the money to fund a trip to Asia, that cash would have been better off put towards my debt. Spending money to increase my debt load (while decreasing my net worth) didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It can be so easy to fool ourselves into thinking it’s okay to spend on things that we can’t afford. That’s what got me into debt in the first place, and I count myself lucky that I figured that out before I spent myself deeper into the red.

What other lies do we tell ourselves in order to justify spending?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Completely agree with you when it comes to spending money on vacation. When I was younger, I took a vacation I really could not afford. I kept telling myself it was my reward for working hard and starting my career. That was stupid. While it only took a couple of months to pay off that debt, it was months of worry, stress and anger at myself. Plus I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to on the trip because I had no money. In fact, we ended up booking an earlier flight home because of it. I’ll never do that again. Now I spend months socking all of my extra money away for vacations and trips but only once I know I can afford it!

  2. Love the paragraph on spending on a vacation. When I was 13 my (older) cousin invited me to join her, her husband and there 2 kids on a trip to Orlando. One of my proudest achievements was working my little teenage fingers to the bone saving every dime I could. My end was only a thousand dollars or so, but it was 1994 and I was 13 so I feel that was impressive. You touched on the point of “I earned it for working so hard” – I think another way people lie to themselves is “I earned it because I didn’t spend on this other thing”. Using your purse example, it would be like you buying the purse because you didn’t buy those shoes.

  3. Richard Hsu says:

    As a photography hobbyist, I often get G.A.S (Gadget Acquisition Syndrome) when I see an interesting photo. The lie in this case goes something like “if I have gadget X, then I can make that photo too” but it doesn’t last long and doesn’t reach the ordering stage. :) Having, said that, I just got myself a used $45 film camera from craigslist so I can get the “film” look but this has been a very old itch that I had to scratch. Or is that another excuse! :)

  4. Byrocat says:

    Richard, that definitely is scratching an itch. Krystal’s been talking around it and this is where we all fail. I’m pretty bad on this with my model airplanes rather than purses or cameras.

    Is this something that I actually need, i.e., there is a definite immediate task that I HAVE (emphasis) to perform, or is this a want? If you start using words like deserve, then it’s a want.

    Even better question is “Do I have the cash to buy this that doesn’t impact anything else?” By cash, I mean actual cash that is sitting in a savings or chequing account or the piggy bank on your dresser top. If it’s somewhere else, it becomes funds-not-available.

    Having a spouse (or Significant Other) to discuss the intended purchase with is another approach to the “gotta scratch an itch now” problem. If you can convince your partner that this is really needed and fits within the guidelines for discretionary spending. (You did have that discussion when the budget was set?)

    I use a piggy bank (coin sorter in my case), anything smaller than a loonie goes into the bank at the end of the day. Funds usually wind up going into my self-directed RRSP but the last swap meet had me with a big chunk of change in my pocket that I could spend as I wanted to, no question asked.

    The trick is getting the “calm voice of second thought” engaged and having room for fun.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Really good idea to have a significant other (or friend) to discuss purchases with! RD is usually a pretty good voice of reason. He never tells me no, but just calmly asks if it’s something I actually need, and if it’s in my budget. Sometimes I try to justify the purchase, but in the end I know he’s right, and the money stays in my bank account. :)

  5. I totally agree with you on so many of these points!!!! However I’m definitely guilty of the whole “it’s not worth the hassle” mentality.

    Cab rides. Cash withdrawal fees. Buying something I know that can be found cheaper elsewhere but more of a hassle to get to. Even though a couple of bucks isn’t a lot it adds up over a year. :(

    How do you discipline yourself to be frugal? Have you always been this way or is it something you have to instill in yourself through repetition?

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I’ve had to work really hard at curbing my impulse to spend … otherwise I’ll find myself back in debt. I’m not a natural saver, and I still struggle with discipline from time to time. Actually, I have a post coming out next week that talks about it. :)

  6. Vanessa says:

    I’ll often say, “it’s only $5-$200, I’ll make more money”…yeah no, not on an “item”, I may do that for something special on a trip, but I certainly don’t need more clothes or anything else because I’m well stocked from doing that kind of “it’s only” spending over the past few years.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      “It’s only $20!” Oh yeah, I do that all the time. Those kinds of purchases add up fast, and prevent you from spending money on what you *really* value. Agree that it’s worth it sometimes for an experience or a trip, but almost never for clothing or random stuff.

  7. Lisa says:

    The “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” was my reason for spending so much on our wedding. I still don’t regret it – but I do think I let that reason get to my head way too much instead of questioning certain expenses more.

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